ONTARIO—Thirty-five junior and senior high school students are enrolled in Poverty to Prosperity’s welding program, which is in its second year.

Classes are held at Treasure Valley Commu-nity College’s welding shop and at Ontario High School. This fall, 20 students from Ontario, eight students from Vale and seven students from Nyssa are enrolled in welding classes.

Poverty to Prosperity aims to change the economic climate of Malheur County and provide opportunities for area high school students. It’s a partnership between the Ontario, Vale and Nyssa school districts, TVCC and the local business community.

One important piece of the initiative is career and technical education, which focuses on preparing students for career opportunities directly out of high school.

Welding was a natural choice for Malheur County’s first segment of the career and technical education program.

“We came down on the welding pilot because we had the ability to do it,” said Andy Kovach, principal at Ontario High School. “It was something that we could do with the kids.”

Kovach said there were several roadblocks, including scheduling conflicts, to overcome before the program could get off the ground. Abby Lee, public information director at Treasure Valley Community College, also mentioned the challenges of getting the program up and running. Those involved weren’t sure how well a joint program would work.

“There was a lot of concern about territory,” Lee said. “After one year, that’s gone.”

Cooperation was put to the test in March 2013, when the career and technical education program received a $200,000 grant from the state of Oregon. The grant allowed Poverty to Prosperity to add another year to the welding pilot and a new group of junior students. The additional students required the Poverty to Prosperity initiative to explore options for adding classroom space.

“We identified additional space at OHS, so we added the junior group at Ontario High School,” Lee said. “The seniors meet here [Treasure Valley Community College] at the welding lab.”

Lee said the program started in the fall of 2013 with its first cohort of 20 students. It is now a two-year program that introduces students to new skills as they progress.

“They receive a certificate of welding at the end,” Kovach explained. “You get recognition for general ability as a welder and for specific tasks, like a certain type of weld or [mastering] a certain type of equipment.”

Students who the career and technical education program are required to sign a contract agreeing to completing the two years of study at Ontario. Vale and Nyssa have a meeting with students before they commit.

This is a curriculum that builds on previous lessons, so it’s difficult to replace those who have decided to leave the program. School officials also said the materials for the program can be expensive.

“Anybody that would be coming in has already missed the first pieces. We hate to see kids move out of it,” Kovach said. “It only makes sense if you’re going to go the distance.”

Kovach said the program has seen some students, who were unable to keep up with the class’s commitments, drop out part-way through, but the majority are committed to finishing the program.

“We know that, in Malheur County, all of our students aren’t graduating from high school and some don’t go to college,” Lee said. “We don’t want students to drop out, but if they stop, we want them to stop with some skills.”

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